Some of the most common social media blunders can be avoided with 5 simple tips. Banana peels can be avoided by not littering.

There are plenty of articles out there gleefully highlighting social media blunders, and we’re sure to see more as 2013 winds to a close.  One of the main worries that brand and PR people have traditionally had about social media as a channel is that the thing that makes social media so powerful – the viral word-of-mouth marketing – can be a double-edged sword.

As follows are 5 tips to help avoid some of the more common social media blunders.

Treat your social media program the way you treat your PR program. 

Is the person running your social media channels someone you’d trust answering questions for a newspaper reporter?  If your answer is “no,” you might want to rethink your staffing.  Social media is real-time and has a 24/7 army of citizen journalists watching, meaning that the person acting as the voice of your company is effectively giving a public interview.

Know the difference between social media marketing and social media as a distribution channel.

Social media is a dialogue marketing model, not a monologue marketing model.  Broadcasting messages at your audience isn’t effective, and it isn’t the point: engagement is the key with social marketing.  However, there are certain times that social media as a channel is servicing a different goal than social media marketing, and crisis communication is often one of those times.  But while PR may be calling the shots on messaging during a crisis, your social media channel strategy still applies when it comes to delivery.  For example, a static message broadcasted individually at your detractors is a bad idea: by Tweeting at them you’re opening up a conversation that you don’t want to have.  If you want control of the message and you want it to remain static, issue it once and not @[detractors] individually, and be prepared to ignore the replies.


If you do something you wish you hadn’t, apologize and move on.

If you’re married, this should sound familiar.  Don’t argue.  Don’t explain.  Don’t blame.  Just apologize, sincerely, and end the conversation.  There’s very little to be gained by continuing to engage detractors once you’ve already addressed the issue: this just fans the flames.

Use a social listening tool to see what people are talking about.

Social listening is incredibly powerful: it gives us marketers a chance to see what our target community is saying.  This is very helpful when we’re trying to be part of a larger social conversation, and it’s also a great way to measure the effectiveness of our messaging throughout any marketing program, including crisis communications.

 Think before you tweet.

It sounds simple, but the twitchy nature of social media makes it easy for us to hit a button before we’ve thought it through.  Do a quick gut-check before you post: my Dad has a guideline for communication that anything we say to be (1) true, (2) necessary, and (3) kind (our family leeway is to pick 2 of 3).  For social media, those 3 guidelines aren’t half-bad, but I’ll add (4) engaging, and figure we social media marketers can pick 3 of 4 and be pretty darn safe most the time.

Here’s the good news: the shelf life of a social media “crisis” isn’t much longer than that of an open San Francisco parking spot.  The same thing that makes social media marketing a challenge can help us out in a blunder: with the average attention span of an online customer being 7-9 seconds, these things usually blow over pretty quickly.